We Must Not Think God Is Our Servant

I first learned about P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves from reading the remarkable English novelist Charles Williams. A character in his most accessible work, the 1930 novel War in Heaven, mentions her sheer delight in reading Jeeves. So I went in search of Wodehouse, who had been wildly popular in the first half of the twentieth century, found him, and began chuckling my way through Jeeves stories.

Jeeves is Reginald Jeeves, valet extraordinaire to the upper-class wastrel Bertie Wooster. Bertie, though educated at Eton and Oxford, is remarkably dense and nearly always in trouble. Enter Jeeves, the gentleman’s gentleman. Jeeves knows everything, from the best bet in the 2:00 race at Epsom Downs to the current romantic interests of the kitchen staff, to the most obscure lines of Renaissance poetry. His knowledge is encyclopedic.

Whenever Bertie gets into trouble, he turns to Jeeves. Though Jeeves is sometimes offended by Bertie’s outlandish behavior, Jeeves remains faithful to him. He may leave Bertie briefly, but he always returns to save the prodigal from the consequences of his own foolishness.

Jeeves, with his boundless knowledge and seemingly infinite reach, is more than a little like God. Perhaps Wodehouse realized this, for he once described him as “a godlike man in a bowler hat.” By making Jeeves like God, Wodehouse was able to create all kinds of interesting and comedic (in the term’s larger sense) plot lines.

Bertie thinks Jeeves is like God but we mustn’t think that God is like Jeeves – though many people do. They suppose he will remain nearby, though discreetly keeping his distance until he is needed. When his assistance is required, they think they need only call and he will appear – Jeeves-like – out of nowhere. He will of course know what to do and will use his vast network of connections to make sure it gets done. When the trouble is over, he will slip away into the nether regions until the next time he is summoned.

To the degree we subscribe to such a view of God, we do God an injustice and ourselves significant harm. When we think of God in these terms, we get our situation exactly backwards, assuming that the infinite and all-knowing God is our servant, whose chief concern is rescuing us from trouble and making sure our life runs smoothly.

Jesus and the biblical writers warned against this mistake. In the Old Testament, Joshua, the successor to Moses, is finalizing battle plans prior to his first engagement with the enemy. It is undoubtedly a nerve-wracking time that calls for great courage, which Joshua possesses in abundance. As he contemplates his first major battle in the Promised Land, he suddenly realizes he is not alone. He sees a man, standing in front of him with sword drawn. He goes straight toward him and boldly challenges him.

But this is no ordinary man. He identifies himself as “the commander of the Lord’s army.” When Joshua challenges him, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” the man gives a striking answer: “Neither.” Apparently, when addressing God, the question is not whether he in on our side but whether we are on his.

Jesus once told a story about a servant who comes in from working in the fields. His master does not fix his supper, nor wait on him. Rather, the servant prepares the master’s dinner and only sits down to his own meal after his master has been served. The point of the parable has been disputed but this much is clear: the servant is not the master.

That is a truth the church must relearn in each generation. Whether it is twentieth century theologians attempting to use God to create a just society or twenty-first century therapeutic religionists trying to use God to achieve self-actualization, we keep forgetting that God is not a glorified Jeeves who lives to serve us.

A.W. Tozer was right: “The whole course of the life is upset by failure to put God where He belongs.” But it is also true that the whole course of life is upset when we put ourselves where we don’t belong – in God’s place.

First published by Gatehouse Media, 3/16/2019

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